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What is the Washington State STEM Lighthouse Program?

By The Editorial Team

The Washington State Legislature designated the STEM Lighthouse school program in 2010 as part of an overall strategy to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education in the state.

The Washington school program provides grants to high-performing STEM middle schools and high schools each year. Lighthouse schools use the funds to help other schools create STEM programs.

Lighthouse Program background

In 2010, the Legislature recognized the need to strengthen existing STEM initiatives within the state to keep up with the insatiable appetite for STEM-skilled high-tech workers at Washington-based companies such as Boeing, Microsoft and others. Rather than start from scratch, lawmakers decided to leverage the innovative best practices of existing top-performing STEM-based schools.

The nontraditional learning environments in three schools served as models for the Lighthouse Program:

  • Aviation High School near Seattle already provided an interdisciplinary immersion in STEM courses using a hands-on project based curriculum.
  • Delta High School in the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland) was a collaborative effort across three school districts that also included a skill center, two colleges, and local business leaders.
  • The Science and Math Institute in Tacoma offered a unique field-based approach to STEM learning that used the natural and historical resources of a nearby metropolitan park.

In addition to serving as models, the Legislature designated these three institutions as the first Lighthouse schools.

How the Lighthouse Program works

The House Bill designated the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to administer the Lighthouse program. The OSPI annually selects up to three middle and three high schools as Lighthouse schools that provide models of how to combine three best practices related to STEM education:

  • Small, highly personalized learning communities;
  • An interdisciplinary curriculum with a strong STEM focus, delivered through a project-based instructional approach; and
  • Active partnerships with businesses and the local community to connect learning beyond the classroom.

The Lighthouse schools are expected to provide resources in the form of mentorship and technical assistance to other schools and communities to help them develop their own STEM-focused alternative learning environments.

2013 Lighthouse schools

In 2013, in addition to selecting six Lighthouse schools, OSPI selected an entire school district, the San Juan School District, for a grant. Each of the seven recipients was awarded a $19,000 grant.

The middle schools include:

  • Stevens Elementary School (Aberdeen)
  • West Valley Junior High School (West Valley Yakima)
  • West Hills STEM Academy (Bremerton)

The high schools include:

  • Delta High School (Kennewick)
  • Bremerton High School (Bremerton)
  • W. F. West High School (Chehalis)

Lighthouse and the Washington state STEM strategy

According to Next Generation Science Standards, the Lighthouse program complements other legislative programs in Washington state’s STEM education strategy. That includes funding for students to participate in national programs such as FIRST Robotics, Imagine Tomorrow, and the Intel Science Talent Search. Washington also requires all students to complete two credits of science to graduate from high school. One credit must be a lab science. The state also has strong alliances with businesses and other organizations that assist with standards development and science education.

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